For this prediction, I assumed no more free agent signings would occur, and that the 53 man roster and practice squad would be comprised entirely of players already on our 90 man roster, which we all know will not happen. More than likely we will sign some free agents that will eventually be on our game-day roster, and usually the practice squad is half full of players cut by other teams. This also assumes no one will be placed on the Injured Reserve before cuts occur. After the jump I look at the closer position battles and some of the reasoning behind my selections.
RB: DeAngelo Williams / Jonathon Stewart / Josh Vaughn
FB: Mike Tolbert
LG: Amini Silatolu / Mike Pollack
RG: Geoff Hangartner
K: Olindo Mare
P: Brad Nortman
LS: JJ Jansen
Practice Squad (8 players)
Taureen Poole (RB)
Darvin Adams (WR)
Greg Smith (TE)
Matt Reynolds (OL)
Will Blackwell (OL)
Ryan Van Bergen (DL)
DJ Campbell (S)
Jonathon Nelson (S)
QB: Right now we only carry 3 QB's, so all three will make the team. There isn't anyone to challenge Jimmy Clausen for the 3rd QB duties, but I wouldn't be surprised if we brought a 4th QB in for training camp. All 3 will make the team.
RB/FB: A position of strength, the 3rd RB spot is up for battles. In all reality tho, the 3rd RB will almost always be de-activated on gamedays because Mike Tolbert is technically the 3rd RB (and Richie Brockel would slide over to FB), but this will be an extremely intense battle. I give Josh Vaughn the edge over Armond Smith and Taureen Poole right now. This is an interesting scenario though because I believe that all three of these players could get signed by another team if they are cut, so PS could be unlikely. I don't know enough about Smith at this point to place him above Vaughn, who has been solid for us in the past and during preseason.
WR: This is a clearly position of need right now. The Panthers made this fairly evident with the signing of 4 UDFA WR's. I can only imagine that Armanti Edwards is officially on the hotseat. The most intriguing battle will be for that 6th WR spot. Believe it or not, we carried 7 WR's on our roster at the end of last year, despite the fact that only THREE ever received valuable playing time on offense. The bottom tier of WR's need to be able to do the little things on special teams to make this roster, and that is why Seyi Ajirotutu makes the team again. Joe Adams and Kealoha Pilares are primarily return men. I wouldn't be surprised to see Darvin Adams or one of the UDFA beat out Ajirotutu though. I think Chris Manno is a longshot since he is more of a receiver than a player able to contribute on special teams.
TE: Richie Brockel is listed as a TE on the Panthers website. With the signing of Mike Tolbert, this actually makes Ben Hartsock expendable. Brockel is extremely versatile. He can take over Hartsock's 3rd TE duties, play backup FB, and provide more flexibility to special teams units.
OL: I will be honest and say I do not know enough about the Offensive and Defensive lines. With regards to the offensive line, in the past we have typically only carried either 8 or 9 players. We seem to be pretty tackle heavy right now, and with the potential of a rookie starting at LG this season, I think a player like Zack Williams, who has flexibility playing both C and G, has a better chance of making the team than Lee Ziemba or Bruce Campbell, despite being injured last season.
DL: We typically carry 5 defensive tackles. We have 6 right now, and only Ron Edwards, Sione Fua, and Terrell McClain seem safe (highly doubt we will cut 2 3rd round draft picks after just one season). This leaves 3 players left to battle for 2 spots, which honestly might be the most intriguing position battle we have. I see Shirley being the odd man out at this point, but once again I don't know much about the position, so I'm going mostly on what other people are saying here. Carrying 10 defensive lineman seems unlikely, but we could always carry 5 DE's AND 5 DT's. More than likely we will only carry 9, but we could see Antwan Applewhite make the team over Frank Kearse or Andre Neblett. In this scenario, I think Frank Alexander would slide inside and play DT on passing downs.
LB: I'm not exactly sure who plays Sam or who plays Will with regards to the backups, so I just chose the best players here. However, this position seems pretty set-in-stone.
DB: WIth the FA signings of Harucki Nakamura and Reggie Smith, Jordan Pugh and Jonathon Nelson will probably be left out. The same goes for DJ Campbell, despite being a draft pick. There just aren't enough roster spots to go around. It's a shame, though, since I was a big fan of Nelson down the stretch last year. Campbell comes back on the PS.
K/P: As much as we'd like to see someone else at K, I highly doubt Justin Medlock will beat out Olindo Mare. I also highly doubt we will cut Brad Nortman after spending a 5th round draft pick on him.
PS: Once again, I likely see this list being made of mostly players cut from other teams. However expect to see the positions evened across the board and comprised of mostly players that would be able to contribute immediately on special teams if called up due to injuries. We may carry one or two long-term project type players, but these players could be signed by any team at any time. Therefore a player like Nelson or Poole may not last long on the PS. Adam's spot could very easily be taken by another WR, such as Wes Kemp or Brenton Bersin, who seem to have special teams value over Jared Green and Rico Wallace.
I know these types of posts have been done numerous times since the end of the draft, but it's always interesting to see another fan's opinion. Thoughts?